Basics for a Guided Theo Chocolate Tasting
Chocolate is an amazing food, rich with a wide range of flavors. Although it’s tempting and delightful to munch through your favorite bar without blinking, we think it can be surprisingly pleasurable to savor. Here’s how!
Before You Begin
It’s helpful to understand that different chocolates have different personalities.
The flavors in a finished chocolate are influenced by all of the following variables:
The region where the beans were grown.
The fermentation and drying techniques of the growers.
The roasting and conching processes. (For more in depth information about bean-to-bar chocolate production click here)
The percentage of cacao in the finished chocolate.
Getting Ready to Taste
Have your chocolate ready.
Have a pitcher of warm water and some plain water crackers available.
Have some way to jot down notes.
Don’t start your tasting on an empty stomach, or you may end up putting too much chocolate in your mouth at once and eating it quickly, which will impair your ability to fully appreciate it.
Also, don’t consume pungent foods such as coffee or garlic in close proximity to tasting, as their flavors may linger in your mouth and alter your ability to perceive the more subtle flavors.
Chocolate, while best stored at a cool 55-65°F, is best tasted at a comfortable room temperature, 70-75°F. If your chocolate has been stored at a cooler temperature, be sure to let it rest at room temperature for at least several hours prior to your tasting, so you can get the full melty mouthful experience.
Now, with that chocolate bar in hand…
Wait, don’t eat yet!
Chocolate appreciation is about nuance, and discovering nuances requires that you slow down and pay attention. Slowing yourself will help your body to relax and notice complexities that a hurried or distracted mind cannot. You will also have way more fun if you’re not rushed.
Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes for a moment. Now open your eyes and observe: Look at that beautiful chocolate bar! It should appear shiny and even. If it is covered in a hazy or white-ish film, it has likely been subjected to improper storage or a temperature fluctuation that has caused separation of the cocoa butter from the cocoa solid. In this case, your chocolate will not be as enjoyable. Hold out for a shiny specimen.
Break the chocolate into 2 pieces and notice the snap. A good chocolate will have a pleasant snapping sound, which indicates a good temper.
Let’s talk about temper for a moment. Not to get too ‘science-y’ (we know you really just want to get to the eating part) but this is worth a pause so you understand what you’re looking at. “Temper” refers to the crystalline structure the cocoa butter molecules form in the chocolate when cooling from a melted state (during production) to a solid form. The cocoa butter takes on a different structure based on the temperature at which it’s cooled, resulting in a chocolate that is soft, greasy and spotted (at the wrong cooling temp) or hard with a nice shiny, even surface (at the right cooling temp). To make things even more complicated, a chocolate bar can fall out of temper once it leaves our factory and lands on a store shelf, a kitchen counter, or in your pocket (you get the idea). So, if the chocolate does not have a nice snap, it may be in a poor temper or it may be too warm in the room.
Use your nose:
Hold the chocolate under your nostrils and breathe in its aroma. If you have trouble detecting any scent, rubbing the piece of chocolate with your fingers can help. Notice any aromas you can detect.
Finally! Use your mouth:
Break off a piece of chocolate large enough to coat your entire mouth—about an inch square or slightly smaller should be sufficient. Place the chocolate on your tongue, close your mouth, and allow the chocolate to melt. Notice how quickly or slowly it melts. Resist the temptation to chew, which will kick in almost immediately.
Notice its texture—is it smooth or is it grainy at all? Does it have a waxy quality? Is it chalky? Is it creamy?
Notice the first flavors you taste; sometimes you will get a very strong first impression, sometimes not. If you do, make a mental note or jot it down! Breathe in and out through your nose to help the volatile flavor compounds reach your olfactory senses. Now chew the chocolate into small pieces if you want to, but try to do it slowly. As the chocolate continues to melt in your mouth, try to notice the various flavor facets: sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. Is any one of these aspects stronger than the others? Are they in balance? What order do you experience them in and in what part of your mouth?
Noticing which basic flavors of the chocolate are prominent can help you vocalize other flavors.
For example: “This chocolate has a strong bitter note. It’s a little like coffee.” “This chocolate is quite sweet. I taste vanilla and caramel.” Don’t be afraid to get creative here – if you taste cinnamon or raisin or dirt or tennis shoe(!), don’t doubt yourself. It’s incredible how different palates are, which is why we all prefer different foods. Honor your experience, whatever it is. Share your impressions if you are tasting with friends. This process of discovery keeps the experience fun and interesting.
As you swallow, notice the final flavors lingering in your mouth. This is called the “finish.” Fine chocolate will leave pleasant flavors in your mouth, though often quite subtle. Take a moment to sit quietly as you reflect on the experience and enjoy the sensation of the chocolate sliding down your throat. After tasting, jot down some notes about your experience, and anything that surprised or delighted you. If you are tasting with friends, share your experiences. This part of the program can often help you identify flavors you may have been unable to identify for yourself and can be a lot of fun. Remember, people experience flavor differently, so your experience will not necessarily be the same as someone else’s.
Cleanse your palate:
Between chocolate samples, sip room temperature or slightly warm water. Warm water helps dissolve any cocoa butter coating your tongue, so it’s refreshed for your next chocolate sample. If you like, you can also use those plain water crackers we suggested you have at the ready to clear your palate. It ‘s a good idea to taste no more than 3-5 different chocolates in one sitting, so you avoid palate fatigue.
Consider yourself a true Theo Chocolate taster!